Big wave surfers are in a league of their own within the world of surfing. Unlike many competitive surfers on the WCT, their interests are extremely diverse ranging from base-jumping to Elk hunting to public speaking. These guys are not competing with each other, they’re competing with mother nature and they’re competing with themselves. They train all year long to defy impossible odds and in the case of Andrew Cotton, to ride waves in Nazare’, Portugal, which tower anywhere between 60 and 100 feet tall.
I recently sat down with Andrew in Nazare’ to grab some lunch and have a chat. In pure Andrew fashion, he had a dizzying table waiting for us hundreds of feet above the sea, on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the town of Nazare’.
JW: So, its Fall and they’ve announced a high probability of an El Nino year (generally indicating bigger waves), what’s going through your mind?
Andrew: You know I had an amazing summer with my wife and the kids. We spent a lot of time relaxing on the beach in Southern France, which is actually where we discovered how much we love using the Neso Tent. Now, it's just about getting my head focused, testing equipment, and training hard.
JW: How do you spend your time leading up to these big winter swells?
Andrew: Nazare’ is the perfect home base. The waves are world class and it’s a quick flight to other big wave spots in Ireland. Riding big waves takes a lot of cooperation from the members of your team. As much as possible, I’m out there with Garret McNamara or Hugo Vau practicing our tow skills, rescues, or just surfing.
JW: How would you explain your love affair with Nazare’?
Andrew: I was just finishing up a program that trains big wave surfers to effectively use jet skis to navigate big waves and rescue other surfers. Garret McNamara called the instructor asking for a competent driver, she recommended me and that was that. Before I knew it I was on my way to Nazare’ to begin driving a ski in some of the biggest waves on earth with a legend like Garret.
JW: Do you train on land?
Andrew: Kind of. Andrew Blake and I run a training camp called “Surf Fit.” Its not your typical work out, we are a blend of a lot of different influences. We incorporate breath work and meditation, pool training, and explosive land exercises. This diverse regiment is intended to not just get someone into peak physical shape, but also to get them feeling more mentally prepared to tackle challenging scenarios in the ocean.
JW: What did you learn from your wipeout last season? (Andrew Suffered a horrendous wipeout in 2017 at Nazare’)
Andrew: It taught me that surfing isn’t everything. You get so attached to the sport and then in an instant, it can be taken away. The wipeout helped me to focus on the little things… small victories during the recovery. Walking again, Hydro-therapy, swimming, and spending time with my family. The day I got hurt, Garret’s wife told me not to refer to my back as broken, but to refer to it instead as my “healing back.” That little switch of adjectives really guided my recovery and helped me learn the power of positivity and patience.
JW: We heard you’re into public speaking as well. What’s that like?
Andrew: Oh, mate the speaking thing. I couldn’t have thought of anything worse! Way more terrifying than big wave surfing. I just remembered talking out loud in school and being nervous, like you don’t want to be wrong. But then I learned that when you’re sharing your opinion and you’re speaking from the heart, you can’t be wrong. It’s your voice and your experience and its beautiful. I’ve been totally humbled by how audiences have received me; wave choices and teamwork really translate and become totally relatable to anyone in professional activities or business settings.
During the interview, Andrew, my wife Chelsea and I shared a seafood lunch together. We told stories about our diverse upbringings in England, Virginia, and New York City respectively. We talked about surfing and Portuguese culture. Andrew was kind, charismatic, and approachable. He presented himself as being so humble and ordinary, which is actually what makes him so extraordinary. You would never guess that behind his reserved demeanor and his unassuming stature is a mad man craving the ferocity of a 100-foot wave and ready to voice his experiences in adversity to an intimidating hall of businessmen. This is the culture of men who ride mountains. Their diversity and thirst for life sets them apart from the confines of the surf industry and makes them impressive humans on the world stage.